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Monday, July 25, 2011
Stars new and old shine at CoverGirl Classic

By Amy Van Deusen

World silver medalist Alexandra Raisman won the 2011 CoverGirl Classic on Saturday in Chicago -- one of the qualifying meets to U.S. nationals held next month. The biggest story of the day, though, was the comeback of 2008 Olympians Chellsie Memmel, 23, and Shawn Johnson, 19.

Memmel, the 2005 world all-around champion, placed second to Raisman in the all-around and looked especially solid on bars and beam (14.40 and 14.70, respectively).

Johnson, the silver medalist in the all-around in Beijing and "Dancing with the Stars" champ from 2009, is still recovering from a knee injury. She competed in only bars and beam and had a fall on each, but at this stage of her training, wasn't disappointed with the performance. "It's almost been three years [since I've competed]," she said after, "I'll give myself a little slack."

Both admitted to feeling underprepared for the meet, and while neither is likely to affect the top of the standings at nationals or make the world championship team at this point, both show potential for next year.

Memmel and Johnson need only look to Alicia Sacramone, another 2008 Olympic veteran, to see a gymnast who's better than she's ever been. Sacramone, 23, returned to competition last year and won the world vault title. Not surprisingly, she won vault Saturday as well, tied for first on the beam and placed third on floor.

The Classic is used by many gymnasts as a last tuneup before nationals, and big names often will opt to compete in only a few events. This was the case for Jordyn Wieber, the favorite to win nationals. She only did bars and beam Saturday, but won bars outright and tied for the beam title with Sacramone. Rebecca Bross, the reigning U.S. national champ, withdrew from the meet altogether after struggling in training. Bross is recovering from ankle surgery in November.

Raisman, the overall winner, used some of the toughest tumbling being done (back 1 1/2 twist to double Arabian punch front first pass and piked double Arabian second pass) to win the floor title as well (14.70). Despite a near meltdown on bars (an extra swing early on and a handstand that fell the wrong way at the end), she topped the standings after she hit a solid beam set and stood up her Yurchenko 2 1/2 twist vault.

Two new seniors also impressed. McKayla Maroney, already well-known for her vaulting ability, wowed on floor with a 3 1/2 twisting mount. And Sabrina Vega showed clean lines and great execution on every event and would have won the all-around if she hadn't taken an extra swing on bars. She ended up third overall, behind Memmel.

This warm-up meet for nationals was exactly that. There were plenty of falls and mistakes, but that's often the case in July -- no one wants to peak at this competition, four weeks before nationals and more than two months from worlds in October. Still, it was a chance for the returning and up-and-coming gymnasts to test their routines in front of the judges and national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who'll be picking the team for worlds and the Olympics. For Memmel, Johnson, Maroney, and Vega, that goal was accomplished, and now it's on to nationals.